Anyway, being a UCI race, we were required to sign in the day before and this was probably my first indication I was out of my depth with the likes of Malcolm Elliot, Zak Depmster, Dean Downing, Rob Halyes and even Ian Field kicking around the hotel car park! And that was just the domestic teams- Belgian, Spanish, German and Irish teams were making up the 165 strong peloton.
On Sunday, the centre of Oakham was packed with press and stars- although our kit was providing a good attention grabber (I was asked to pose with the mayor!) before we set off, each team was welcomed to the podium and a quick interview introduced us to the crowd- our aim for the race? "find a pub"
The race set off at a blistering pace! And I mean blistering! Such a large bunch caused a few crashes early on, not surprising with closed road spreading the bunch across the road. Our average speed for the first two laps of Rutland water was 48.3k/h! We hit 80 k/h on the slightly downhill sections! It was impossible to check where I was in the bunch, too scared to look behind.
As we entered back into Oakham, the roads narrowed dramatically and with street furniture and traffic islands in abundance, it became harder to hold a position. At one point, I had to ride up a footpath across a grass verge just to stay upright. (sorry to the spectators!)
1hr 25mins in and we still were on an average speed of 47k/h. The all he'll broke loose as we turned sharp left and into the farm lanes.
Vision immediately obscured by dust and the lack of the road edge meant just pointing the bike forward, shifting to a bigger gear and pushing through.
The bunch remained generally in tact for the first half of the race, hills I had feared seemed to be less of a challenge as we approached most of them at 40k/h you were half way up them before you knew it.
The sectors through the farmyard were mind-blowing. Absolutely no Tarmac, just hard packed dirt, rubble and gravel- major skills required.
I remember thinking As we past through the feed zone "what a silly place to put it? We are all going far to fast here" turned put, it was an ideal place- you just didn't get a chance to let off the power!
It was at about 100k that there was a split in the field, I was with a group of around 60 riders including Dave Clark, Rob Hayles and half of Spain by the sounds of it! We worked on to pull the groups back together, but the hammer had truly gone done now. A touch of cramp sent me to the back of the group in a second, with little I could do about it. In amongst the team cars looks like a good place to be when you see it on the telly- but trust me- when 32 team cars are thumping across dirt roads, it's the last place you want to be. I drafted behind the KTM car, then Endura Racing, them Rapha Condor before managing to tuck up behind Sigma Sports flash Merc. Struggling to see the group ahead, despite it only being 100 yards from me, I tried to relax and wait until a return to Tarmac.
The sector through the farm and village again took it's toll on my rear tire, punctures in this event are a "when" not "if". I flipped the wheel out, holding it aloft as car after car brushed past me. My only hope was a neutral car to be near the rear of the following vehicles. Alas, it was not to be and my race had ended at 120k.
A kind spectator game me an inner tube ( I can't afford a guaranteed tub puncture) and I rode back to the feed zone to watch the end of the race be fought out.
It was certainly impressive to watch, and even better to be a part of (for 3 hours at least) and clear from the faces of the riders at the end that it was just as demanding for them.
Zak Dempster Rapha Condor Sharp took an impressive sprint victory. A hard fight at the end of a long 4hrs.